“There was nothing that my father loved more than being a gangster. Not money, not even us. He felt that anybody that really lived this life like he did, at the end of the day you have to die or go to jail.” – John Gotti Jr. Who is John Gotti? Depending upon who you ask this question to, your answer could vary. Growing up in my neighborhood in Far Rockaway, Queens John Gotti is a legend and someone people look up to.
At the same time you can ask other people about John Gotti and they will tell you that he was a ruthless thug and a menace to society. Either way you look at it John Gotti made his mark here in America and he was known all across the country for being the boss of the largest and most powerful of the five families in New York, the Gambino crime family. I will not talk about my opinions on John Gotti in this paper but I will give you his life story from his birth in the Bronx to his death in prison and let you be the judge.
John Joseph Gotti was born on October 27, 1940 in the Bronx, New York. John was the fifth child of Philomena (Fannie) and Joseph Gotti, who were Italian Immigrants.
Joseph and Fannie Gotti also had twelve other children; four of which who would also become made men, or members of the Mafia. John’s younger brother Gene Gotti was actually initiated before John was due to John’s incarceration at that time. During John’s time as boss of the Gambino crime family he had his brother Peter Gotti initiated despite John’s belief (and that of many others) that Peter did not have what it takes to be La Cosa Nostra. Peter earned himself the nickname “the dumbest don” after the incarceration of John Gotti, Gene Gotti, and John Gotti Jr. when he assumed the position of Boss of the Gambino crime family. The other two brothers were Richard Gotti, who would be revealed as capo in 2002, and Vincent Gotti. John Gotti spent his early years growing up in poverty. John Gotti’s father Joseph Gotti was a day laborer who never had regular work or a steady source of income. On top of Joseph Gotti’s problems with finding decent work so he would be able to provide for his family, he also had a gambling problem. This was a huge problem because he was the only earning member of the large family. John Gotti came to resent his father for not being able to provide the family.
By the time Gotti reached the age of twelve, he was already an errand boy working for an underground club. This club was headed by Carmine Fatico, a capo in the Gambino crime family. Fatico was an early mentor Gotti until John was introduced to Aniello Dellacroce, who became his mentor for life. Gotti had his first run in with the law in 1954 when he was caught with friends attempting to steal a portable cement mixer that tipped over and crushed the toes of his feet. He had to be hospitalized for a while and as a result he is supposedly missing a toe or two. By 1956, Gotti had dropped out of Franklin K. Lane High School and was named the leader of the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. This gang is where he meets and befriends Angelo Ruggiero and Wilfred Johnson, who also become Made Men in the Gambino crime family. When Gotti moved with his family to Ozone Park in Queens, New York, Gotti became a key member of the Gambino hijacking crew. Along with his brother Gene and Ruggiero, Gotti began hijacking trucks at what would come to be known as John F Kennedy International Airport.
This is where he was introduced to and befriended future Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Massino. It was here that they were given the nicknames of “Black John” and “Crazy Horse”. In 1968, Gotti was arrested for the hijackings. While out on bail, Gotti was arrested again for a hijacking on the New Jersey Turnpike. Gotti pleaded guilty to the Northwest Airlines hijackings but the charges were dropped on the New Jersey Turnpike cigarette hijackings. Gotti served three years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary for the hijackings. After his release in 1972, Gotti returned to the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club to work with Carmine Fatico until later that year when Fatico was indicted on loansharking charges. Despite Gotti not yet being a Made Man, Fatico named him the acting capo of the Bergin crew. It was at this time that Gotti and Dellacroce grew closer because Gotti would frequently come to the Ravenite Social Club to brief Dellacroce on his crew’s activities.
In May of 1973, Emanuel Gambino, nephew of Carlo Gambino who was the current head of the family, was kidnapped and murdered despite the payment of a $100,000 ransom. Gotti was tasked to take out the man responsible along with Ruggiero and Ralph Galione. The primary suspect was an Irish gangster by the name of James McBrantley. Gotti and his boys found McBrantly in a bar in Staten Island. While Gotti and Ruggiero go over and try to take him somewhere, Galione comes over and shoots McBrantley in the middle of the club for everyone to see. Gotti would be arrested for this murder one year later after being fingered by many eyewitnesses, one of which was his friend Wilfred “Willie Boy” Johnson. Gotti was able to strike a plea bargain so he would only serve four years in prison for attempted manslaughter. After the Death of Carlo Gambino in 1976, Paul “Big Paul” Castellano became the boss of the Gambino crime family. Upon his release in 1977, John Gotti was immediately initiated into the Gambino crime family. Gotti was immediately promoted to capo of the Bergin crew, replacing Carmine Fatico.
Castellano kept Dellacroce as his underboss and gave him control over 10 of the 23 crews, including Gotti’s Bergin crew. Gotti’s Bergin crew was the largest earners of all of Dellacroce’s crews. Gotti also ran a loansharking business on the side on top of taking his cut from all the money that his subordinates made. Gotti had many people working for him and he made them all make regular appearances at the Bergin and would get irritated if someone didn’t check in within 48 hours, he kept this routine when he moved to the Ravenite Social Club. In 1980, Gotti’s son Frank Gotti was killed in a traffic accident by their neighbor, John Favara. Favara was abducted and never to be heard from again, many believe him to be dead. Despite the belief of some people that Gotti killed Favara himself, the Gotti’s were on vacation in Florida at the time of his abduction. John Gotti Jr., future head of the Gambino crime family, still believes that his father most definitely had something to do with his disappearance though. In his remaining years as capo of the Bergin crew, Gotti was indicted on two separate occasions.
He would not go to trial for either of these cases until he was crowned boss of the Gambino crime family. One of these cases came in September of 1984; Gotti was arrested for the assault and robbery of a refrigerator repairman named Romual Piecyk. Piecyk found his car blocked by a double parked vehicle outside of the Cozy Corner Bar in Queens. Piecyk laid on his car horn until Frank Colletta, the owner of the double parked car and Gambino family associate, came out, smacked him across the face and took his weekly paycheck out of his shirt pocket. When Piecyk began to fight back, Gotti came running out and smacked him across the face and reached into his waistband and told him “you better get the f*** out of here!” Piecyk went and got the police and they returned to the bar and arrested Gotti and Colletta. The second indictment came in 1985 when Gotti along with Dellacroce and other Bergin crew members were the targets of a racketeering case, headed by US Attorney Diane Giacalone. It was the latter case that revealed Gotti’s close friend, Willie Boy Johnson, to be an FBI informant.
When Gotti found out all he had to say to Johnson was “I’m gonna give you a pass, and I give you my word no one will bother you, Gotti told Willie Boy. After we win this case, you won’t be able to be in the life again. But you’ll get a job, you’ll have your family, and you’ll be all right.” As the boss of the family, Paul Castellano had banned Made Men from the Gambino family in dealing with drugs under the threat of death. In 1983, Angelo Ruggiero and Gene Gotti along with a few others were all indicted on heroin charges. The indictment came about through bugs placed in the home of Angelo Ruggiero, using evidence given to the FBI by Willie Boy Johnson. Along with the talks of heroin deals on these tapes there were also some remarks made about Castellano from Ruggiero on there. Castellano’s pursuit to hear what was on these tapes would be the beginning of the end for him. Although John Gotti was not on any of the tapes and they could make no connection to him, Castellano was still looking to hold Gotti accountable. In fear for his life, Ruggiero went to Dellacroce to see if he could plead his case to Castellano that they were only sorting out the affairs of his brother Salvatore Ruggiero, a big time heroin dealer who had no ties to the family.
The story was enough to hold Castellano off until he received the tapes. In the spring of 1985 Castellano began pressing for the tapes again but backed off when he found out that his underboss, Dellacroce, was dying of cancer. He figured that if he waited for Dellacroce to die, there would be nobody he had to worry about stopping him from getting the tapes. Castellano was able to hear the tapes that summer and began formulating a plan of action but would hold off on putting that plan in motion until Dellacroce died. Gotti knew Castellano, who was never a fan of Gotti and wanted him out of the family, would have him killed so he began a plot of his own along with Frank DeCicco, Sammy Gravano, Joseph Armone, and Robert DiBernardo. When Dellacroce died on December 2, 1985, it was time for one of the sides to make their move. Castellano did not show up at the services for his former underboss and that infuriated Gotti and other members of the family and also members of the other four families. For Gotti to have the head of his family killed, he would first have to go to the heads of the other families in New York for permission.
Gotti got the necessary votes from the Bonanno, Colombo, and Luchesse families for the hit. “The Fist”, which is what the five men went by, had the perfect set up. They figured that a little over a week before Christmas, around rush hour, between 5pm and 6pm that the streets would be flooded with probably over a thousand people doing there holiday errands. They figured the hit would only last a few seconds and the confusion from the panic after the gunshots went off would make for the perfect escape. The four designated shooters were Vincent Artuso, John Carneglia, Eddie Lino and Salvatore Scala. The designated back-up shooter, Anthony Tony Roach Rampino, would be standing across the street from Sparks Steak House, while Angelo Ruggiero, Joseph Watts and Iggy Alogna would be stationed at 46th Street and Second Avenue to help with the escape. Frank DeCicco would be inside the restaurant where a meeting was to take place.
He would be joined there by capos James Failla and Daniel Marino, who were not part of the plot. On December 16 Big Paul had arranged to meet Dellacroce’s son Buddy Dellacroce at Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street. Frank DeCicco set it up. Castellano was going to pay homage, to explain why he had not come to the wake and offered condolences, to make amends. It wouldn’t be until the afternoon of the planned murders that the actual hit team knew who their targets were. Huddled in a park on Manhattans Lower East Side, the group went over the final details of the murder plot. The four shooters were dressed alike long light colored trench coats and black fur Russian style hats. The reasoning for this was to draw attention to the outfits, not the men wearing them. Gotti and Gravano parked a Lincoln, driven by John himself, up the block in sight of the front of Sparks Steak House. Moments later Thomas Bilotti, Big Paul’s new underboss, pulled up next to Gotti’s car at an intersection and waited for the light to change. Using a walkie-talkie Gravano notified the others that Castellano was approaching.
Bilotti steered the Lincoln into an open space in front of Sparks and got out. As Castellano stepped out of the vehicle, the hit men moved in. Big Paul was hit six times in the head and killed instantly. When the shooting began, the unarmed Bilotti ducked and looked through the driver’s side window only to see his boss’s execution, unaware that killers were now aiming at him. As the shooters assigned to Bilotti opened fire, Artuso’s gun jammed. However, the gunfire from the second assassin dropped the newly crowned underboss. Carneglia, who had finished blasting away at Castellano, ran over to the other side of the car and put the finishing touches on Bilotti. After the very public killing of Castellano and underboss Bilotti, Gotti found himself in the media spotlight a lot and was widely suspected to be responsible for the murders. Gotti became known as the “Dapper Don” for his expensive suits, hand painted ties, and meticulously groomed silver hair. At the time of Gotti’s takeover, the Gambino family was regarded as the most powerful American mafia family, which is why during this time he was regarded as a boss of bosses.
The Gambino crime family’s estimated annual income was around five hundred million dollars. According to Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, Gotti was bringing in about ten to twelve million dollars per year. In an attempt to protect himself and his underlings legally, he banned any Made Man from taking a plea agreement that acknowledges the existence of the family. Gotti’s fame came to affect the outcome of his previous indictments from 1984 and 1985. By the mid to late 1980s, John Gotti had gone from the “Dapper Don” to the “Teflon Don” because of the failure to make any charges stick to him. When Gotti went to trial for the 1984 assault and robbery of Romual Piecyk, Gotti benefited from his new fame. Piecyk received many phone calls and the breaks to his work van were cut. Fearing for the worst, Piecyk went into hiding, hoping he would not have to testify. When Piecyk was forced to testify he said he could not remember who his attackers were. Because of his random loss of memory, the New York Daily News came out with a headline that read “I Forgotti!” On April 7, 1986 the jury selection for Gotti’s RICO case began.
With the success Gotti had in intimidating Piecyk in his prior case, he decided to use the same tactics to beat this case. Dennis Quirk was the first witness to be approached by Gotti’s men and was murdered right before he had to testify against Gotti’s co-defendant, Charles Carnaglia. The events to happen in the next few days would lead Judge Nickerson to postpone the trial. On the morning of April 9, a bomb threat was called into the courthouse, clearing it immediately. On April 13, 1986, underboss Frank DeCicco was killed when his car was bombed following a visit to James Failla. The bombing was carried out by Lucchese capos Victor Amuso and Anthony Casso, under orders of bosses Anthony Corallo and Vincent Gigante, to avenge Castellano and Bilotti. Gotti also planned to visit Failla that day, but canceled, and the bomb was detonated after a soldier who rode with DeCicco was mistaken for the boss. While Gotti’s trial had been postponed, he remained in jail because his bail had been revoked for evidence of intimidation in the Piecyk case. Pretrial motions were handled on August 18, 1986.
Judge Nickerson had ruled that there would be an anonymous jury to protect jurors from intimidation and the jury would not be sequestered, or isolated. Cutler claimed that such a jury creates fear that is misplaced and deprives the defendants of a fair trial. Bruce Cutler, John Gotti’s lawyer, went at the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses like Edward Maloney and Mathew Traynor, calling them low lives and scum. This would come to be known as “Brucifying”, it was a tag that Cutler would gladly wear. Along with stripping the credibility of some of the prosecutor’s witnesses, Gravano was reached out to in order to offer his vote of not guilty to ensure a hung jury. This man’s name was George Pape; he offered his vote for sixty thousand dollars. On March 13, 1987, they acquitted Gotti and his codefendants of all charges. In February 1986, the Bankers and Brokers Restaurant in Battery Park City was under construction.
The restaurant was under the management of Philip Modica, whom police described as a Gambino crime-family soldier. Modica was not using union carpenters in the construction, which upset John F. O’Connor, The business agent and chief operating officer of Manhattan-based Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners. O’Connor responded by having the restaurant trashed one February night, causing some thirty thousand dollars’ worth of damage. When Modica took his complaint to Gotti, he ordered that O’Connor be busted up and the assignment was given to members of the Westies, a gang of Irish thugs from the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. At 6:40 in the morning on May 7, O’Connor was waiting to enter an elevator in the lobby of a midtown Manhattan building that housed his union offices. Westies gang member Kevin Kelly at O’Connor shot four times, wounding him in the butt, left leg and hip. The union official was rushed to St. Clare’s Hospital, where he soon recovered. On the evening of January 23, 1989, John Gotti was arrested outside the Ravenite Social Club and charged with ordering the 1986 assault of union official John O’Connor.
There were bugs planted in the Ravenite Social Club and in an apartment above the club in which Gotti had frequent meetings where he spoke freely about Gambino family business. They used these tapes in trial when they heard what they thought to be Gotti telling someone to “Bust him up!” in reference to O’Connor. Although they had these tapes for a while, nobody warned John O’Connor about what might happen to him. Gotti’s defense attorney’s, Cutler and Shargel used this in trial stating that If the tapes weren’t clear enough to warn O’Connor, then they are not clear enough to convict Gotti. Along with the bad sound quality of the tapes and some Brucifying, Gotti was eventually acquitted on all counts due in part to the testimony of O’Connor himself. O’Connor testified that he was never told his life was in danger or that anyone was going to “bust him up”. The defense was attempting to prove that since the investigators had not warned O’Connor, they had no evidence that named him as the target of Gotti’s “bust him up” comment. O’Connor also testified that there were internal conflicts within the union at the time he was wounded and that he had many enemies. On December 11, 1990, FBI Agents arrested John Gotti, Sammy Gravano, and Frank Locasio.
This was the fourth indictment for Gotti since he came to power after ordering the killings of Paul Castellano and his underboss Thomas Bilotti. However, this was the first time that Gotti would be indicted for the latter murders. He would also be indicted for the murders of Robert DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono. Along with those murders, Gotti would also be charged with the conspiracy to murder Gaetano “Corky” Vastola, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion. Gotti and his co-defendants were once again denied bail. Along with Gotti being denied bail, Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel, were disqualified from being able to represent any of the defendants in this trial due to some recordings that proved them to be working as “in house counsel” for the Gambino crime family. The tapes also created tensions between Gotti and Gravano. The tapes showed Gotti describing Gravano as too greedy and attempted to frame Sammy as the main force behind the murders of DiBernardo, Milito and Dibono. Gravano decided to turn state’s evidence in 1991 and testify against Gotti. The case was tried in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The presiding judge was US District Judge Israel Leo Glasser. For the first time ever the jury was kept anonymous and totally sequestered in a Brooklyn Federal case. The prosecutors, Andrew Maloney and John Gleeson, opening statements were given on February 12, 1992. They played tapes from bugs planted in the Ravenite Social Club and the apartment above the club that had Gotti discussing Gambino family business, killings that he ordered, and showed the animosity he had towards Big Paul which also gave him a motive for the killing of the former head of the family. On March 2, 1992, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano began his testimony. Gravano told the court about Gotti’s ranking as the head of the family. He also told the court about Gotti’s role in the Castellano and Bilotti hit and gave them every detail of the hit. Gotti’s defense provided no real help. All of Albert Krieger’s, Gotti’s new defense attorney, witnesses’ testimonies were dismissed except for one and that was the testimony of Gotti’s tax attorney.
The prosecution rested its case on March 24 and John Gotti was convicted on all accounts on April 2. John Gotti was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on June 23, 1992. James Fox, the director of the New York City FBI, announced at a press conference, “The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck.” Gotti was sent to serve his sentence at the US Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Gotti eventually died of throat cancer in June of 2002. John Gotti would not be able to have his funeral in the church due to the request of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. After the funeral, hundreds of people followed the hearse which drove through Gotti’s old neighborhood and past the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club.